Movie Reviews - 06/12


By Harvey Karten (AZR) - This Gran Torino has as its potential passengers a mixed group of people who are stereotyped throughout, with awfully silly dialogue and old-fashioned acting. This might please some in the audience who want to reminisce about the grand old movies like "Boys Town" and "Men of Boys Town" with Spencer Tracy in the role of Father Flanagan—determined to say the young 'uns. Clint Eastwood both directs and anchors the production, taking the role of Walt Kowalski, an old salt in an inner-city Detroit neighborhood where political correctness is ignored by the blue-collar types who revel in calling one another by every racial and ethnic pejorative in the books lest they be considered girly-men. Walt Kowalski is no girly-man, nor is his aging Golden Labrador Retriever, Daisy—who at the time of the story's opening is not only the man's best friend but the only one.

Warner Bros.
Reviewed for Arizona Reporter by Harvey Karten
Grade: C
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Written By: Nick Schenk from Dave Johannson and Nick Schenk's story
Cast: Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Hughes, John Carroll Lynch, Cory Hardrict, Dreama Walker, Brian Haley
Opens: December 17, 2008

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Kowalski is a stubborn, determined man, holding on to his wood-frame lodging as his neighborhood is deteriorating and every other white family has moved to the suburbs. You'd think he'd be the last man to hold the fort considering his racist attitudes, as he spends a considerable time talking to himself (as a way to let us in the audience get in touch with his background). There is, however, one sentimental touch: while he is still what they used to call shell-shocked by his army days during the Korean War, he can't get out of his head the way he shot one of the Chinese enemy point blank, one of the thirteen men he killed during that action. Later, as the Vietnam War wound down, some members of the Hmong clan, who lived in Southeast Asian countries like Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam and Thailand, have been given entry into the U.S. in return for their loyalty in fighting on our side.

When Kowalski catches one Hmong kid, Thao (Bee Vang), trying to steal Kowalski's 1972 Gran Torino as an initiation requirement set by an Asian gang, Walt begins to ease up on his attitude toward people who—unlike Daisy—do not look like him, especially after he saves the lad from a beating and is rewarded by gifts of food and flowers from the family next door.

Here is a case in which the thief gets rewarded, not just by being rescued but by being taken in by Walt, who now serves as a role model, instructing him how to talk like a man --meaning that he should call Martin, the Italian barber, by the same pejoratives that Walt kiddingly uses and who is answered in return. When the Hmong gang takes drastic action in a drive-by shooting, the tone of the film turns from the comedy featuring with Mr. Eastwood acting against type as a crotchety gaffer whose monologues bring smiles to the audience. The star becomes Dirty Harry with one ironic difference.

Many of the characters are types rather than real people. Thao's sister Sue (Ahney Her) is fluent in Hmong and English, an assertive gal who is more comfortable with a man five decades older than are Walt's own sons, Mitch (Brian Haley) and Steve (Brian Howe). Correctly labeling them greedy as they have eyes on the Torino and the house as well, Walt finds himself making up for the decades of racial animosity, getting a load off his mind through confession to Father Janovich (Christopher Carley) a pastor who seems fresh out of school and who looks in on Walt per a promise he made to Walt's recently departed wife.

Everything about the film is predictable. We can almost pinpoint the exact time that comedy would give way to melodrama. What's more Clint Eastwood—a terrific director as shown by his recent success with "Changeling" and his powerful role in "Million Dollar Baby" as Franklin Dunn, mentor to a female fighter, softening a stance with which he kept people at a distance. While some groups—recently the National Board of Review—will nominate or name him Best Actor for this role, Eastwood radiates only a perpetual scowl and half-closed eyes as though he were trying to block out the non-white neighbors.

Rated R. 116 minutes. © 2008 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online

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